June 24, 2019:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (Big Ten CRC) focuses on immunotherapy treatments which are quickly growing to be successful treatments for cancer. There is also growing research on specific cancers and how they affect different populations based on several demographics.

University of Illinois Cancer Center (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Growing up, Jiyeon Kim couldn’t wait for dinner. Each night the precocious young girl would sit mesmerized listening to stories her physician parents would share about treating patients that day. It was a time that Kim, PhD, a University of Illinois Cancer Center member, looked forward to daily. At the time, they didn’t know their talks would spur their daughter to a life devoted to science and work to develop drugs that could someday help save the lives of their patients.

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University of Illinois Cancer Center (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Ribonucleic acid or RNA transcribed from genes that seem not to code for anything may play an important role in regulating cancer, a new study suggests. A number of these noncoding RNA fragments lie next to known cancer genes, the study found. Understanding how they interact with those cancer genes could open new avenues to understanding cancer’s behavior and treating it.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

A team of researchers from Indiana University and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have been awarded a $4.1 million National Cancer Institute “Cancer Moonshot” grant to develop immunotherapy treatments for cancer in children and adolescents, especially those with leukemia. The research promises to achieve more effective, better targeted and less toxic therapies for pediatric cancers.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

University of Iowa Health Care is now certified to offer CAR T-cell therapy, a newly approved treatment that uses a patient’s own white blood cells to detect and kill cancer cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of CAR T-cell therapy for patients with certain types of blood cancer, says George Weiner, MD, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A potential new immune-based therapy to treat precancers in the cervix completely eliminated both the lesion and the underlying HPV infection in a third of women enrolled in a clinical trial. The shot, a therapeutic vaccine, injects a specific protein that triggers an immune system response to attack high-risk HPV types that cause nearly all cervical cancer precursors, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, or CIN.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Michigan State University physicians have found that vitamin D, if taken for at least three years, could help cancer patients live longer. The findings suggest that the vitamin carries significant benefits other than just contributing to healthy bones and were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting on June 3, 2019.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota
There are more than 15 million cancer survivors in the world today, each living with the systemic impacts of their cancer treatments. Survivorship research focuses on the myriad of issues cancer treatments cause and seeks to maximize patient quality of life after the therapy. The Masonic Cancer Center is prioritizing survivorship research by appointing Anne Blaes, MD, hematologist and medical oncologist for the University of Minnesota Health and associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, to be the inaugural director of Cancer Survivorship Services and Translational Research. In her new role, Blaes will bring multi-disciplinary researchers together to study cancer survivorship and translate the findings into better cancer care and after care.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

The University of Nebraska Medical Center is on a mission to wipe out pancreas cancer – perhaps the most lethal form of cancer. As part of its assault on this cancer, which claims the lives of 90% of patients in less than a year, UNMC is taking a double-barrel approach that includes:

  • A rapid autopsy program that features the most extensive and well-documented collection of pancreatic cancer tissue deposits in the world; and
  • A unique early detection program for people at increased risk of developing pancreas cancer.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A new Northwestern Medicine study has uncovered how a key enzyme in mitochondria can function as either a cancer suppressor or cancer promoter. The study, published in Nature Communications, was led by David Gius, MD, PhD, professor of Radiation Oncology and Pharmacology. Gius is also vice chair for translational research in the Department of Radiation Oncology and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

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The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

A major public health initiative aimed at preventing cervical cancer in at-risk Appalachian families from Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia is underway with support from an $11 million National Cancer Institute grant to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). The OSUCCC – James is collaborating with 10 health systems throughout Appalachian Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia to conduct this research in close partnership with the University of Kentucky, West Virginia University and the University of Virginia.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

The American Cancer Society has awarded $728,000 in funding to Penn State College of Medicine researcher Shirley Bluethmann to study whether exercise reduces joint pain and increases adherence to a type of lifesaving medication called aromatase inhibitors in women who have survived breast cancer. The five-year grant will support a clinical trial. Bluethmann is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and principal investigator on the trial, named REJOIN for its focus on relieving joint pain. She is a behavioral scientist who received specialized training in cancer prevention and control as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute, and she has been working primarily with older breast cancer survivors for the past decade. Her team will recruit women ages 65 and older in central Pennsylvania who have completed primary treatment for breast cancer and are now taking aromatase inhibitors.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

A 62-year-old with stage IV lung cancer that has spread to his bones, causing unspeakable pain, is trying to convince his physician to prescribe pain medicine. What happens next? It actually could depend on if the patient is black or white. Or if the physician is a primary care provider or an oncologist. Yes, race and other factors could play a role, according to a new study conducted by researchers and recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

As researchers further elucidate the mechanisms behind immunotherapy for cancer treatment, they’re seeing advances with a class of drugs known as ‘checkpoint inhibitors’ that use the body’s own defenses to fight disease. In order to initiate this response, the immune system uses molecules (checkpoints) on certain cells to activate (or deactivate) an immune response so that it is only attacking foreign cells and not healthy ones. Cancer cells can sometimes use these checkpoints to remain undetected and avoid attack by the immune system. A protein known as PD-L1 and a cell receptor known as PD-1 have the ability to interfere with the immune system’s ability to kill cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitor drugs that target PD-L1 and PD-1 are found to block this action and are showing positive results in treating certain types of cancer.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health assistant professor of neuroscience Darcie Moore, PhD, and assistant professor of human oncology Zachary Morris, MD, PhD, are recipients of 2019 Shaw Scientist Awards from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

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Information for this story was compiled from Big Ten CRC member websites, news releases, and social media.

About the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium was created in 2013 to transform the conduct of cancer research through collaborative, hypothesis-driven, highly translational oncology trials that leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of Big Ten universities. The goal of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium is to create a unique team-research culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to new approaches to cancer treatment. Within this innovative environment, today’s research leaders collaborate with and mentor the research leaders of tomorrow with the unified goal of improving the lives of all patients with cancer.

About the Big Ten Conference: The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate, professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in 1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices and policies that enforce the priority of academics in the lives of students competing in intercollegiate athletics and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions will provide over $200 million in direct financial support to almost 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports. The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. For more information, visit www.bigten.org.